We don't think weak and dependent old people are worth much. For every government dollar spent on child protective services training, only 4 cents is allotted for adult protective services programs.We have federal laws to protect animals but no federal law against elder injustice; just "information" centers.
Elder abuse just isn't a table topic for most people, says Mary Twomey, head of the UCI Center for Excellence/Focus on Elder Abuse and Neglect.
Yet this abuse – which takes many devious and twisting forms – is increasingly common. Particularly at a time of economic stress. What kind of elders are abused?
We like to imagine our elders as "sweet old ladies" or "old men who are bad drivers." Yet many are simply frail people totally dependent on someone who can care for them or rob them of their treasure and their dignity.
Geriatricians, psychologists, social workers and long-term care ombudsmen gathered in Newport Beach recently for the second international conference on finding ways to recognize – and stop – elder abuse.
The outcome was a call for Elder PEACE – Protection, Education, Advocacy, Collaboration, Eradication – a movement supporters hope will inspire a national audience. (For information, go to http://www.centeronelderabuse.org/.) Hugely ambitious."Absolutely," Twomey says. "But it's time. We have recognized the rights of children and of domestic violence victims to protection. As the elder population grows, we need to turn our attention to the victims of elder abuse." And who are the abusers?
About 70 to 90 percent of all abusers are family members, says Dr. Laura Mosqueda, head of the UCI program. So what does abuse look like?
Sometimes it looks like bruises on the body. Other times like a drugged and lethargic elder.
Most often, elder abuse look like an empty bank account, a stolen home, possessions suddenly gone missing. Why are so few cases reported, so few abusers convicted?
Read "T is for Trespass," the latest in the Kinsey Millhone mystery series by Sue Grafton.
Currently a New York Times best-seller, the novel is described as Millhone's "most direct confrontation with the forces of evil."
The book deals with identity theft, betrayal of trust and breakdown in the institutions charged with caring for the old and dependent.
It also deals with the obligation – and frustration – of friends and neighbors witnessing the abuse.
As the story unfolds, as the lead character recognizes the elder abuse of her neighbor, she takes action. She calls the county's adult protective services agency.
But she is uneasy. "This is how the system works," Grafton writes. "A citizen sees an instance of wrongdoing and calls it to the attention of the proper authorities. Instead of being lauded, an aura of guilt attaches."
Her neighbor refuses to admit he is being abused. Being dependent and old is frightening. Often the victims refuse to point the finger at family members. More likely, they are embarrassed and ashamed about being victimized. But there are signs of change.
"Aging boomers are already making a difference," says Rebecca Guider, director of adult services and assistance programs for Orange County. "They are more educated about their rights; less likely to put up with abusive situations."
No one really knows how many elders are abused or neglected by family members and others.
It is a silent crime shouting for your attention.